With 45 points on the year, the NC Courage have secured a home playoff game and look to be in good shape to even win the NWSL Shield. The Portland Thorns are just one point behind the Courage but only drew with the Orlando Pride yesterday and North Carolina has two games in hand on them. A win in the match secures the Courage the NWSL Shield.
Thanks to the international break, it’s been two weeks since the Courage played. In their last match, against the Houston Dash, the team beat the Houston Dash 1-0. The match featured what has become the preferred style for North Carolina this season. They scored early thanks to a long throw-in from Lynn Williams that led to a goal from Kristen Hamilton in the 26th minute. From there, the Courage let the defense see the game out while finding a few more opportunities to add to their lead.
This team is becoming absolutely impossible to score against with a lead. So far this year, they’ve allowed just 18 goals all season and have kept an astounding 11 clean sheets. It is quite the shift from the high scoring, shaky defending Western New York Flash team that squeeked into the playoffs last season only to win the NWSL Championship.
For their opponents, Sky Blue FC comes into the match having been eliminated from the playoffs against the Washington Spirit in their last time out. Things were going fairly well for the team which held a lead into the 75th minute. That’s when the Spirit equalized and eventually went ahead 10 minutes later.
What to watch for
Despite not having playoff hopes resting on the result of the match, the Sky Blue do have something to play for. Forward Sam Kerr is sitting on 16 goals this season, just one shy of the record for most in a NWSL season. Sky Blue are more than capable of scoring goals and Kerr recorded four in one game against the Seattle Reign in wild game last month.
However, the Sky Blue attack has slowed as of late having just scored just three goals in their past three games. In addition to their offensive woes, their defense has been the worst in the league this year as the team has allowed 47 goals on the season.
As far as what the Courage need to do to come away with a win, stopping Kerr needs to be at the top of the list. However, forward/left back Kelley O’Hara also offers a threatening option for SBFC in attack and attacking midfielder Daphne Corboz has chipped in five assists on the season.
North Carolina will look to exploit the defensive struggles that Sky Blue has experienced all season. The Courage will also look to get their attacking duo of Lynn Williams and Jess McDonald on the same page as the team prepares for the playoffs. Coach Paul Riley seems to be searching for the best lineup for playing the two forwards. At times he’s played a two forward formation with each up top, while other games he’s played one as a lone striker with the other on the right wing.
With a more attack minded Sky Blue team looking to find their goal scoring form again, it seems likely that Riley will take a more defensive approach to the game and set a lineup with just one lone striker.
Which gets me to...
How to watch:
Streaming: NWSLSoccer.com and on the go90 app